Playwright Boo Killebrew tells Hurricane Katrina stories about her hometown, Gulfport, Mississippi. A family refusing to evacuate. An old lady waiting for her son to arrive from New Orleans. Two paramedics holding down their post. And Dr. Larry Killebrew, the playwright’s father, working through the storm at the hospital. Killebrew, herself, is even a major character in the overarching story. Within the disaster-related tales of an epic hurricane, Killebrew uses this play within a play to focus on the relationship between her and her father.
Killebrew (played by Tuckie White) and her father (played by Joe Mack) are jointly writing a play about Hurricane Katrina. Throughout the show both White and Mack serve as storytellers, characters in scenes and collaborators discussing revisions. The show has the look of an unfinished play. The stage is a series of wooden frameworks. On the side of the stage is a desk with a lighting board and scene scripts dangling from wall hooks. The show starts with Mack, an actor playing a father playing an actor playing himself. White redirects him to ‘not use that voice.‘ She coaxes him to be more natural. This initial set up has a homespun charm. It feels personal. And that’s exactly what works and doesn’t work for the play’s flow.
Killebrew is almost stealing focus from the impact of the hurricane. She continually interrupts the unfolding hurricane stories by returning to scenes between White and Mack. Throughout the show, White will grab a scene revision involving a sad childhood memory and make Mack read it. Since we know the two are reconciled in present day because they are writing a play together, the scenes lose their dramatic intent. Mack wants to return to harrowing tales of people drowning but White wants to have an uncomfortable father-daughter reenactment. Despite some of the harsh relational content revealed, Mack comes off as amicable and White seems insensitive and childish. The revisiting childhood wounds is a continual speed bump in the midst of this harrowing, life-threatening catastrophe.
Mack describes people ‘swimming toward the hospital.’ This descriptive passage is haunting. I see the disturbing visual in my mind. The best parts of the show is the imagery conjured up by the actual hurricane storytelling. Under Marti Lyons’ direction, we experience the distress on the roof, in the truck and at the hospital. And in the midst of the swirling chaos, she effectively shows a character’s end by slowing the pace as the actor silently exits the stage. Real people get trapped by their belief that the storm isn’t going to be a big deal. That is connectable. I understand the logic. And with the benefit of hindsight, I ache for each misstep in their efforts to survive.
Miguel Nunez portrays a father who has insisted the family stay home and weather out the storm. When Nunez and Paloma Nozicka realize their heart-breaking mistake, they effectively convince their son Aaron Lamm that they can protect him. In another house, Sandra Watson reminisces about her children, her mistakes and her redemption. Watson plays the sassy neighborhood matriarch. In a tender flashback scene with Patrick Agada (Kenny), Watson gives and receives comfort in between snippets of “Days of our Lives.” It’s sweet and funny. Throughout the show, there is humor within the human tragedy. Agada and Nick Horst (Neil) play paramedics and childhood friends. Their interactions have that authentic bro feel. They pass the time by cracking jokes about their shared past and uncertain future. Agada plays a time traveler. Although that metaphysical character aspect initially seemed an odd choice, I absolutely loved it for the touching outcome of Agada and Horst’s friendship.
I liked THE PLAY ABOUT MY DAD. The poignant hurricane storytelling is evocative. And I even liked the idea of a daughter-father collaboration from his experiences and their relationship. I just didn’t want so many contrived Jerry Springer moments trying to stir up the past and taking away from the bigger drama, Hurricane Katrina.
Running Time: Two hours with one intermission
At Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark
Written by Boo Killebrew
Directed by Marti Lyons
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8pm
Sundays at 3pm
No performances on October 29th and November 26th
Thru November 28th
For tickets, visit www.raventheatre.com
For more reviews and information on Chicago theatre, visit Theatre in Chicago.